Hunting From a Hamster Wheel

As you all know, a hamster wheel is a metal exercise contraption that you put in your critter’s cage. Your pet crawls onto this wheel and runs forever while getting nowhere fast, while the metal squeaking of every revolution of the wheel drives you insane. Well, recently I found that genealogical research can be a lot like running on a hamster wheel…

When I began the search for an obituary I had the name of the deceased, the date of death, and the town in which they died, and had also found that only one newspaper covered the whole county, so I thought I was taking the next logical step when I contacted the main branch of the county’s Public Library. With fingers crossed, I asked if they had copies of the newspapers, and the librarian said yes they had all of the newspapers on film, but no she could not make a copy of the obituary because their only microfilm machine had broken and there were no funds to repair or replace it anytime in the near future. When I asked her how else I might acquire this obituary, she suggested that I contact the county Historical Society and gave me their telephone number.

So, I called the Historical Society, where a very kind volunteer answered the phone. I told her that the librarian had suggested that I could acquire a copy of the obituary from the Society. She explained that yes, they did have a microfilm machine but no, they had no films! Trying to be helpful, she added that if I just brought the films over I would be welcome to use their machine to make my own copies for a small fee. I explained that I lived 3,100 miles away and it would therefore be difficult for me to bring the films right over. When I asked what else I could do to obtain the obituary, she suggested that I contact the newspaper office, gave me their telephone number and wished me luck.

After taking a few long, slow and deep breaths I called the newspaper, explained to the operator that I was looking for an obituary from 1983, and asked to be transferred to the appropriate department. She said that she would gladly transfer me if there was such a department, but since they were a small office she would just transfer me to the “oldest employee here” who might be able to assist me.
While she transferred my call I found myself listening to “Dream On” by Aerosmith, which provided me a with a moment of “inner chuckle” before a rather elderly fellow answered the phone. I told him that I was searching for a 1983 obituary, and explained that they did have copies of the newspaper at their office, all hardbound and in their storage facility. They would be able to copy this obituary for me sometime this summer when they hire a few interns to help at the office. Also, they charge a search fee of $30 an hour and that each look up probably would run about 3 to 4 hours, because they have to go to their off site storage facility, bring the book back to the office, find the obituary, make a photo copy, mail the obituary, and then return the book back to their off site storage facility. He then told me that since all of their newspapers were microfilmed and the films were transferred to the Public Library, I might want to contact them. He asked me to hold the line, and when he returned he gave me the telephone number and the name of the person at the reference desk. Did I just hear the sound of a squeaking wheel in my brain?

I looked at my notes, and guess what? Yes, he gave me the number and name of the person that I had first spoken to. Yes, it was definitely a squeaking sound and it was getting louder by the minute!

I called the library again, and this time asked them if they loaned their films to the Historical Society. They said no. Trying not to feel flustered, I asked if the local University or State Archives might have copies of these newspapers. They said no.

Of course I called both the University and the state Archives, but found that the librarian had been correct and that neither had copies of the county newspaper. The nice fellow at the Archives did give me a phone number to call, but the number was to the newspaper office. Squeak! The wheel came to a screeching halt.

I usually think outside the box, or in this case outside of the hamster wheel, so I contacted the local funeral home who told me that except for information on the cards that the family fills out when hiring them, they had no additional information about burials unless a copy of the obituary was included in the file. He got out a piece of paper and asked me for the “name and the date that your beloved passed over” and when I gave him the date in 1983 he replied “Oh Dear, after 20 years we destroy these cards and files, and this funeral was closer to 30 years ago.”

Did I mention that I hate hamster wheels?

Genealogy Huntress


About Hunting Down History

Megan Heyl is a genealogist, researcher and teacher and has been involved in genealogy for many years.
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8 Responses to Hunting From a Hamster Wheel

  1. jkmorelli says:

    Just wanted to say I saw your posting in the Geneabloggers “newly found” blogs and thought you might be interested in mine. I am a long time genealogist who is educating herself in anticipation of becoming certified. I am blogging the process. I just got back from the NGS conference and blogged through the event. Welcome to the community.

    • Hello jkmorelli, thank you for the warm welcome. I will be sure to check out your blog and review of the conference. I am in the process of deciding which conferences I should try to get to and am also considering various opportunities in furthering my education. Megan – Genealogy Huntress

  2. P J Sabados says:


    You might want to try the local funeral homes for that area. If you can find the funeral home that handled the arrangements, they could possibly have a copy of the obituary in their file. It’s a long shot, but it might get you off that wheel.

    • Thank you PJ, but I had done that. The funeral home destroys their cards after 20 years, and this was 30 years ago. Thanks for bringing this tip up, others may not have thought of that and it brings another source of genealogical data to the forefront. Happy Hunting and Blogging – Megan – Genealogy Huntress

      • P J Sabados says:

        I actually had a funeral home direct me to the local library when I was trying to find a copy of an aunt’s obituary. Luckily, they not only had the resources to get it for me, they also mailed me a copy without charge when they could not get a clean enough copy to send via email.

  3. Fun, fun, fun….you gotta love the chase though.
    I had the same problem with a funeral I contacted awhile back! & I didn’t get the feeling the funeral home was ‘fond’ of genealogy calls…
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

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